How do infants learn a language?

mike   Saturday, May 10, 2003, 17:52 GMT
Some scientists claim infants are born with a ready-made or inborn linguistic structure that is empty and needs and, in fact, waits for being filled with actual words, terms, expressions. Others argue that infants have no idea or any structure of a language whatsoever and learn it from scratch.
Im personally inclined to believe the first option given the speed at which infants learn the language their parents use on an everyday basis. I guess it would not be enough to state that infants learn a language on account of their being exposed to it everyday. That's why I think there must someting else to it, maybe the congenitial structure some scientists believe in.
how do u feel about it?
mike   Saturday, May 10, 2003, 17:55 GMT
It would be interesting to test on childs this fact. It would be funny to learn a little child a languages that doesn't exist. Maybe an own invented language. It would be cool to make this experiment with little Yankee kids.
David Bosch   Saturday, May 10, 2003, 20:10 GMT
Yes, it would be very interesting, but I think creating a whole new language for the purpose is a much more difficult.
Probably it would be even more interesting to teach a child several languages at the same time, like English, German and Spanish.
Tom   Sunday, May 11, 2003, 08:54 GMT
mike - The experiments you mention have been carried out. They (and the whole subject of psycholinguistics) are discussed in Steven Pinker's excellent book "The Language Instinct".
mike   Sunday, May 11, 2003, 19:17 GMT
The two mikes you see at the top are not one and the same person. Im the one who came up with the topic.
Ive heard of someone who was kept in a little cell by her parents for a couple of years - I dont know the exact figure. She wasn't exposed to a tiniest bit of spoken language through all the years and when she was finally made free she was completely unable to learn the language people spoke to her. She could produce isolated sounds and after some time, more or less, understood what people spoke but she never mastered the language. Soon it was found out that children are capable of assimilating language only within a certain space of time. Once they go beyond the space, as it were, they just clam up.
I'd be interested to know if the existence of the alleged structure or a frame that is to be filled with language through mental development is the result of evolution. In a word, are language skills passed on from generation to generation?
What's your view guys?
>>>   Sunday, May 11, 2003, 19:45 GMT
Ah yes, the Language Instinct is a very good book.
hp20   Sunday, May 11, 2003, 22:54 GMT
there were three girls who had that experience, mike, their names were Genie, Isabelle, and Anna (at least those are the names my psych book gave them). Genie was found in California in the 70's or 80's when she was about 13. Isabelle was found when she was four, but as she had had some spoken and physical contact with her mother, who was with her, the language concept was not foreign to her and she was able to catch up to her peers and become a normal kid. Anna was found at age 4 or 5 as well, but she had been in total isolation and was not introduced to the concept of communication in time, and she never adjusted. i've heard about these cases in both psych classes and physiology classes, and my physiology teacher explains the process (or lack of one) as a series of nerve endings in the brain that are supposed to connect as we get older, but if they are never stimulated by conversation or communication, they never make those connections and after a time (a "window of opportunity") it is too late and simply cannot physically happen.
>>>   Monday, May 12, 2003, 01:36 GMT
I have heard of something like this as well. One case was where a professor of linguistics took a child at the age of 8 or 9 under his wing and taught her 3 or 4 languages, and she could speak all of them fluently, but here grammar for all of the languages was never correct.

Well, my time here has been short but eventful. I am going to do some missionary work for my church, so I will be leaving the states for a while, leaving me no time for the computer.
Jim   Monday, May 12, 2003, 03:32 GMT
I think that I'd agree with those scientists who claim that "infants are born with a ready-made or inborn linguistic structure" but I'm no psycholinguist. It's interesting what hp20 wrote about nerve endings in the brain. Maybe there is some basic pattern there to start with which needs finishing off.

If you go lock a kid up for years on end you're going to end up with a severly traumatised child. Wouldn't inability to communicate normally be par for the course when you're dealing with that level of psychological disturbance?

I wonder what happened to the parent(s). If if were up to me, I'd lock them up in gaol for the rest of their lives. A life of solitary confinement is probably what they really deserve, an eye for an eye and all that.

Perhaps we should lock fake* Mike up too. It would be far from funny to do nasty experiments on kids (Yankee or otherwise).

* Not the Mike who started the thread.
hp20   Monday, May 12, 2003, 04:07 GMT
i think anna and isabelle lived in europe quite a while ago. they were isolated because they were born out of wedlock. i have no idea what happened to those responsible. genie, on the other hand, was the daughter of some fundamentalist christians who were arrested and tried...i believe her father died in prison of old age.
KT   Monday, May 12, 2003, 05:32 GMT
I hope no kids were locked up only for the sake of experiments. If any, what did they do that they deserved it?
Clark   Monday, May 12, 2003, 06:16 GMT
>>>, that story sounds familiar for some reason.

I also read in a book (maybe it was the Language Instinct???) about a linguist who isolated two babies from anything because he wanted to see what the first language of humans was like. He thought that by not letting these children talk, they would miraculously(sp) speak the language that God gave to Adam and Eve.
Arthur   Monday, May 12, 2003, 20:27 GMT
I believe the person who isolated babies to give them an "opportunity" to develop the "natural language" was Frederick the Great of Prussia. He established the special nursery for the children born to unmaried women who died in childbirth. The caretakers were not allowed to speak to them while providing all needed physical care.

I agree with your idea in general, though the explanation of a "window of opportunity" appears to me as oversimplified.
hp20   Monday, May 12, 2003, 22:50 GMT
it is oversimplified because it's not my idea and i never do a very good job explaining these theories. ;) it's a psychological/physiological theory that you could probably read much more about somewhere else, as i only told you what i knew (which was not much).
mike   Saturday, May 17, 2003, 16:38 GMT
Do you think that if there is such thing as the ready made structure in human brain it could be possbile that it emerged through the process of evolution or perhaps it is, indeed God-given?